I have to be honest. I approached Tomorrow, Berlin by Oscar Coop-Phane with reluctance. Literary fiction about three young males? Set in Paris and Berlin? Focused on drugs, sex and techno? Written by a young French man with a hyphenated name? It screamed pretentious, inaccessible literature. But then – then I read the first page, and I was hooked.
‘He couldn’t have lived without crutches. So even if the drugs are ruining him, destroying him gradually, that’s preferable to dying suddenly, drowning himself in the Spree or hanged with his belt.’
Give me more! I devoured Part One. It jerked me along with deep insights and bare emotion so that I became immersed in the lives of Tobias, Armand and Franz, young men who are all searching: Tobias for strength and escape, Armand for meaning and Franz for purpose.
The book depicts a very specific scene, that of drugs and clubs in Berlin. Of a ‘closed world of people convinced they’re living more intensely’. Coop-Phane manages to describe truths about life in elegant brevity and to shed light on feelings bubbling beneath the surface, often purposefully ignored. But as the book develops he does this less and less. The tight, meaningful prose of the first part gives way to a looser, wandering stream of consciousness, illustrated most strongly by excerpts from Armand’s notebook.
As a middle-aged, middle-class woman, Coop-Phane’s male world often seemed as remote to me as that of Narnia. When Armand arrived in Berlin alone and aimlessly walked the streets at night, I felt a deep disconnect. I strongly identified with Armand’s need for complete freedom but, as a female, envied his ability to grasp it.
There were also many times, as I bore the onslaught of hedonistic debauchery, that I found it almost impossible to believe that people like this actually existed. That people make the choices these three young men were making. But I know they do. (Coop-Phane’s bio even suggests a resemblance to Armand.)
But for me this is the book’s greatest value – its portrayal of lives and a world I cannot relate to. I could no more imagine living Tobias’ life than he can imagine living mine. And that is what makes reading this book worthwhile and fascinating.
Renee Mihulka is an avid reader, an aspiring author with three manuscripts on submission, and a mum of three.